Musings & Younger Perspectives:
Why Pub Theology?
By The Rev. Emma Donohew | Photos by Jesse N. Love
Emma Donohew takes the “church” out of church and places it in a bar & grill for her weekly Pub Theology.
Why do people gather in a pub?
In an unofficial survey I found that folks gather for food, fellowship and open dialogue with friends and strangers. Sounds a lot like what a church should be. I can’t help but wonder how our church spaces are hindering this process that happens freely in other locations.
I spend a lot of time thinking about space. Ever since I launched a weekly pub theology group, I find myself pondering strengths and weaknesses of various spaces as much as I consider our theological topics.
The spaces and locations we gather in matter.
Each week I realize that as pub theology fluctuates between 4-16 people, the pub we choose to meet in will either help or hinder our gathering. I wonder…will we be able to hear one another over the ambient noise, other diners, and interruptions of the waiter? Will we have enough chairs? Will we need to find a bigger location? Yikes!
These are different questions (sadly) than those I ask regarding planning worship or small group studies in my church. For many churches of my size (under 100) the question isn’t about not having enough space, but too much. The castle church at Green Lake was built in 1910 to hold 350 plus people. Now we delight in having over 60! I realized that getting people into the building might mean leaving it first.
Taking church out of the building to a local pub has been an enlightening experience for this new pastor. Pub theology has allowed for conversations that are unimaginable on Sunday mornings. Whether we are tackling the challenges of Christian dating or Christology, this group of Methodists, Evangelicals, Atheists and agnostics can respectfully converse with a mutuality that is sometimes unbelievable. We gather for discussion, meaning no one person (even the pastor) has ultimate authority. We are all in it together to discern in community, how our understanding of God is experienced in each new topic.
While it is possible that this could happen at church, doing this in a public setting makes a difference. The experience of witnessing to others in different locations (i.e. The Pub, that Christians are not detached but engaged with the real issues of life) has only happened because we left the building. On Ash Wednesday after our evening service we had 12 young people bearing ashes, witnessing their faith to others in a bar! While the fruit of the vine might peak their interest the holy conversation keeps them returning.
If we are to truly “Rethink Church” we must “Rethink Our Current Strategies”. Taking the church out of the building is an important way to reach those who are unfamiliar with the life-transforming message of Jesus Christ. Other churches and campus ministries throughout the PNW have also had their own successes! To live out the golden rule of loving your neighbor you must also love your neighborhood. Truly living it out also means engaging the challenging issues of faith in a new way and sometimes even in a new location…
Emma Donohew serves as pastor of Greenlake UMC (Seattle, Wash.).
This story will be featured in Channels 62, coming soon.
They Like Jesus But Not the Church (D4834)